Friday, December 22, 2006

Vezina Leader

So far this season, I have been picking Miikka Kiprusoff as the best goalie in the NHL. I have done this despite the fact that Cristobal Huet of the Montreal Canadiens has had better statistics (per game) most of that time. This is because Montreal was unclear as to who would be their number one goalie at the beginning of the season (Huet and David Aebischer shared the job) until Huet clearly won the job.

Although Kiprusoff still has more games played, the difference in games is a lesser percentage of the total games played as the season progresses and Huet continues to put up some great numbers and play some dominant goal. Huet has a 2.28 GAA and a .933 saves percentage in 23 games so far.

Huet has continued to get better every year he has been in the NHL. He is on the verge of establishing himself as a superstar goalie. Because he didn't enter the NHL until age 27 (and is currently 31) he is not on the typical track of a Hall of Fame goalie, but he does have that as an upside (afterall Dominik Hasek turned 31 during the first season he played more than half of his teams games - and Huet and Hasek do have the similarity that they have lots of international experinece where they have excelled but didn't come to the NHL until they were older). In a worst case, Huet will probably go down as an Arturs Irbe (a very good goalie who played some great hockey before his NHL debut at an older age but not a Hall of Famer).

The questions surrounding Huet are now that he is clearly a number one goalie and has scouts watching him more carefully will flaws be found in his game and how will he adjust? And Huet is already at the age where players usually begin to slow down does he have the staying power to remain an NHL star for 5-10 more years?

If Huet shows us anything, its that talented NHL capable players are out there and missed by scouts. How many of these players get lost in the cracks and never show us what they could have done?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Isle of Capri: Denied

The Pittsburgh Penguins future looks a little bit gloomier today. Their plan to get a new arena was for the Isle oof Capri casino lisence to be approved and its profits owuld be put toward an arena. They were competing with two other potential casinos for this licence. Today, the casino licence was not granted to Isle of Capri. PITG Gaming Majestic Star, a Detroit based company, will get the licence. Now the Penguins must seriously look for a plan B.

The Penguins problems are further enhanced because potential owner Jim Balsillie withdrew when the NHL pressured him to commit to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh at all cost. This was the second time the Pens current ownership attempted to sell the team. This summer Howard Fingold submitted a failed bid. It is clear that current ownership has no desire to hold onto the team. The plan to get a new arena built has failed. Although NHL propoganda mentions Frank D'Angelo as a potential owner (or Mark Cuban sometimes) there is no realistic new owner ready.

I must admit that I know little about bidding for casino licences in Pennsylvania. I find it amazing how the Isle of Capri handled their bid. Thousands of hockey fans who know less than I do about casino licenses were praying for their bid to succeed. Almost none of them actually care about casinos. It was the arena they were cheering for.

What criteria does the decision get based upon. Is it soley the suitability of the casino plans and the ownership group? Does the fact that Isle of Capri promised an arena matter? If another group promised to invest profits in the stock market and then have their grandchildren live the lives of spoiled rich kids (a la Paris Hilton but not quite as wealthy) is that a negative or does it matter at all? Since the Pittsburgh Penguins are tied into the Isle of Capri bid does their recent ownership problems hurt the bid? I don't know the answer to these questions. Frankly I don't care. This is more about casino licences in Pennsylvania than I ever imagined writing. It does reduce the potential of a gambling conflict of interest in the NHL.

Now what happens with the Pittsburgh Penguins? Will they build a new arena? How long will they stay in Mellon Arena? Will they move? If so, where? Kansas City wants them and is considered the front runner. What are the implications to the NHL if they move? They have a new CBA which many believe will provide the stability that Gary Bettman promised in the lockout. If this is proven to be false, what is the public reaction?

Here is the TSN story.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Closest Division

We are well into the third month of the 2006/07 NHL season and in the Northwest Division nothing is settled. First and last place in the division is currently separated by a mere two points. Here are the standings

Northwest Division Standings (as of the end of Dec 18th games)
Team GP Wins Losses Cheap Loser Points Total Points
Edmonton Oilers321715236
Calgary Flames311615335
Vancouver Canucks331716135
Minnesota Wild321616234
Colorado Avalanche331617234

Unlike the NHL, I am calling a loss a loss (even if its in overtime or a shootout), but I have to keep track of overtime loss points to get the standings correct.

The difference between first and last in the division is Edmonton has one extra win and two less losses than Colorado. That is miniscule and luck alone should provide a bigger spread (if we imagine each team flipped fair coin to determine results instead of playing games, there would be a bigger difference between first and last). When the season completes, the top team in this close race gets one of the top three seeds in the west (likely 3rd) and the bottom team(s) likely miss playoffs. The difference between 3rd seed and missing playoffs in last place could be miniscule.

Currently, Edmonton leads. They have had strong goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and suprisingly good results from a young, inexperienced defence. Their forward unit is deep but hasn't provided the level of offence I would have expected before the season began. Hot on their heels is Calgary, with a game in hand. They possess susperstar goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and the best defence in the division. Their offence hasn't been too great, though Jarome Iginla might be beginning to take off (if he gets some support from Alex Tanguay or others watch out). Next up is Vancouver with a a very weak offence (though that could change somewhat if Markus Naslund starts going) and some great goaltending in Roberto Luongo. They are followed by Minnesota who is off to a good start considering Marian Gaborik (their expected top scorer) has been limited to seven games played. They have a strong defensive system instilled by Jacques Lemaire and a strong goalie in Manny Fernandez. In last is Colorado. They have the best offence of the bunch led by Joe Sakic (and it has room for improvment - Milan Hejduk has not stood out yet this year). They are the team with the weakest goaltending so far, but that could change if Jose Theodore ever starts to play like a Hart Trophy winner again.

In a few days, likely the order of these teams will shuffle, but they will remain tightly bunched. I still stand by my prediction that Calgary will likely win the division. This is the ultimate parity division. Nobody is great. Nobody is bad. Everyone is around .500 (as many wins as losses), but how does one make predictions when games decided by coin tosses would likely give a larger spread from first to last?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Best Forward This Season

In early November, I picked Sidney Crosby as the best forward in the NHL this year but he missed some time with a groin injury. During that time, he was passed by Jaromir Jagr, but Crosby is back and was extremely hot last week, so its time to pick him as the best forward in the league again. Crosby leads the NHL in scoring with 52 points so far.

Many people (such as James Mirtle) are ready to call him the best player in the NHL. I think that is premature. I wouldn't give him the MVP so far this season. Both Chris Pronger and Nicklas Lidstrom have had stronger seasons (though on defence). Nevertheless, the NHL likes the story that the young players have taken over the "new NHL" regardless of the truth of that statement. If Crosby continues to lead the NHL in scoring and if Pittsburgh makes the playoffs, it is quite likely that Crosby wins MVP deserved or not. Right now he wouldn't deserve it. He would deserve third. Nevertheless, I have complete faith in the NHL's mythology that the young guns have taken over playing out in the post-season ballot boxes if its still a somewhat logical statement come the end of the season.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

New MVP Pick

I have been picking Nicklas Lidstrom as the MVP so far this season. He has been in a tight battle with Chris Pronger for MVP. Pronger has more points (he leads defencemen with 35 points). This is particularly impressive since he plays in the lower scoring West Conference. Both Lidstrom and Pronger are defensively strong as well. Lidstrom leads the NHL with a +23 +/- rating and Pronger is closing fast. Pronger's +19 is third in the NHL. This week a third serious candidate emerged. Sidney Crosby scored 10 points in two games this week and took a commanding lead of the NHL scoring race.

While Crosby has been impressive of late, I don't think he is the MVP of the whole season. Clearly he will take over that position soon if he keeps his hot streak up, but he hasn't done that for long enough yet. The race is between defencemen Lidstrom and Pronger. Chris Pronger has taken over the MVP lead. His defence is nearly equal of Lidstrom and he is a bigger offensive presence.

Pronger is having a great season so far. He is only one of three defencemen in history to have won the Hart Trophy (joining Eddie Shore and Bobby Orr). He is the only one of the three to have only won in once. Maybe they could all be multiple Hart winners if Pronger keeps playing this well.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Potential Penguins Owner Withdraws

Jim Balsillie had made a had offered to buy the Pittsburgh Penguions for $175 million. He is the second potential owner to make an offer after Howard Fingold in July. Balsillie has withdrawn his offer. It appears that Balsillie wanted the option to move the Penguins if the Isle of Capri slots deal to finance a new Penguins arena fell through and the NHL was dictating that he sign an agreement to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh under any circumstances. Balsillie balked at this agreement. He isn't investing $175 million in an NHL franchise only to have the NHL tie his hands in event that Plan A does not work out.

This is the NHL's "negotiation" tactic. They successfully dictated a new CBA to the players. They are trying to dictate a player transfer deal with the Russians and they are trying to dictate terms to any new owners. This is problematic because nobody wants to be dictated to. It leads to fights. It leads to good people (like Balsillie) deciding there is no point playing ball with the NHL.

Where this leaves the Penguins is an interesting question. They have wanted local government to buy them a new arena. They have been offered development rights to the Mellon Arena site if they can come up with the money to buy a new arena. The plan to generate this money comes from the Isle of Capri casino licence being passed and its revenues being used to finance the building of the new arena. However, given the uncertainty in the Penguins ownership, there is a reduced liklihood of this casino licence being passed.

Should Pittsburgh wind up moving, Kansas City wants them. Balsillie made the option of a move to Southern Ontario seem likely. There are a few other possibilities as well (Houston, Portland, Winnipeg etc). The NHL does not want their claim that the new CBA would bring stability to the NHL franchises exposed as a lie by seeing the Penguins move. This would be a high profile move because the Penguins are a dynamic young team built around future (and current) stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, if they keep driving away potential Penguins owners by dictating to them, the NHL might force such a move. Pittsburgh cannot keep a team without committed ownership regardless of how strong the market is. With the second potential Penguins owner's withdrawal, its unclear what the future holds for the Pens. They have a good young team. They have a solid market. They need a new arena. They cannot attract willing ownership. The future does not look bright. The positive is that Balsillie may re-emerge as a potential Penguins owner if the NHL withdraws its demands.

Here is TSN's story on the Penguins ownership situation.

NOTE: In what seems to be an admission that the Pittsburgh Penguns chances in the Isle of Capri announcement this Wednesday require an owner (or at least a potential owner) who is committed to keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the NHL-run media (like TSN is trotting out Frank D'Angelo as a potential Penguins owner. The story making rounds is that he is "thinking about buying them". Since when has it been news that somebody is thinking about buying a team? Was it news when Balsillie was thinking about buying the Penguins? Was it news when Francesco Aquilini was thinking about buying out John McCaw in Vancouver? Its only news when it happens. I wouldn't be suprised if D'Angelo never does attempt to buy the Penguins, but he is somebody that can be trotted out before the media when they need a potential owner in place to say the right things. And he says the right things:

We have absolutely no intention of moving the team. We want to keep the team where it's been for the past 40 years and that has produced players like the great Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and now has Sidney Crosby.

I think this is a desperation move by the NHL. They need some kind of owner in place and a potential owner who is thinking about it is better than nothing. They were suprised to find out they couldn't strongarm Balsillie into agreeing to all their demands.

ANOTHER NOTE: In a sign that the Pittburgh Penguins are very upset with Jim Balsilie for pulling out of the deal days before the Isle of Capri announcement, Mario Lemieux is bashing Balsillie on the record.

We were shocked and offended that Mr. Balsillie would back out of such an important deal at the last minute - and less than a week before a decision on the funding of a new arena that will have far-reaching implications on our franchise, our city and our region. As a result, we intend to retain Mr. Balsillie's deposit because we believe him to be in breach of our agreement. We can say unequivocally that the deal with Mr. Balsillie is dead.

We are not going to deal with him but we will keep his money. That's the gist of it. Balsillie didn't breach the agreement. He balked at further conditions that the NHL tried to impose in the eleventh hour of negotiation. Mre than likely, some kind of arbitration/court battle will fought over the deposit (believed to be about $10 million). When the NHL loses or reaches a settlement (which is the most likely scenario), it will be a footnote hidden away in the bottom of an obscure article in the back of the sports section, but today it is still big news when Lemieux tells us how bad Balsillie is.

Here is TSN's latest story on this mess.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Secret Of The Devil's Success

The New Jersey Devils have been a good team for several years. If the season ended right now, they would be fifth seed in the east conference. They are doing this despite the persistent salary cap problems that are eating away their depth. They are doing this despite the fact that nobody on their team can score at point per game rate and despite the fact that their top scorer Patrik Elias has been awful defensively and sports a -14 +/- rating which is tied for 9th worst in the NHL. They are doing this despite the fact that Martin Brodeur is no longer playing like a Vezina candidate in goal (though he is still a good goalie - this may be the beginning of a decline). They are doing this despite the fact they lost two hall of fame defencemen in Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer and have not been able to repalce either with an all star. Yet, this team keeps on going and challenging for (and often winning) their division title each season.

A big part of their secret this year comes in staying out of the penalty box. This is a huge advantage in the days of obstruction crackdown where falling down in traffic often draws a penalty. The Devils have been a very disciplined team. They lead the league with only 111 times shorthanded (second is Tampa Bay with 132 times - average in the NHL is 166 times shorthanded). The Devils have roughly 2/3 the penalties to kill of the average NHL team. They have far fewer penalties to kill than any other team in the NHL. Clearly if you have less penalties to kill, then you will allow less shorthanded goals. In the obstruction crackdown NHL an increasing number of goals are in special teams situations. The Devils have been better at avoiding these than anyone else and that is why they have done so well this year despite the signs that something should be wrong. I credit coach Claude Julien with a lot of this success. Team discipline starts with good coaching. I would not go so far as to give Julien coach of the year (that would go to Ted Nolan as of right now) but I would nominate him for the award.

If a team can manage to avoid shorthanded situations, when scoring is increasingly dependent upon man advantages leaguewide, they will be successful despite a lack of elite talent. This is what the New Jersey Devils are doing.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Viral Marketing At Work

Of the NHL owners, Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals is the most internet savvy. His talents come from his "day job" as vice chairman of AOL. He sees the potential of internet bloggers as a cheap source of advertisement for his team and is doing a very good job of grooming them to get them to shill for the Capitals.

He has invited bloggers such as Eric McErlain to join him for a hockey game in his luxory box. Showing an interest in the local bloggers has helped with a proliferation of Washington Capitals blogs who are trying to get on Leonsis's good side to make sure that they receive rewards like this. Becoming friendly with the bloggers makes his side of the story much more sympathetic to the blogging community and mutes criticism.

It goes further than that. Leonsis has announced online a 15% off offer on some tickets to Washngton home games for the rest of December which he announced in his blog (NHL owner with a blog). Thats not a bad business decision. I am sure he knows that sellouts are unlikely in these games and a 15% discount really isn't much. There are other ways to get discounted tickets in Washington (and since this offer cannot with other discounts its not a big deal). What is brilliant is the way it caters to the online community. He has a team of "independent" bloggers ready to advertise this offer. Here is Japer's Rink shilling for Leonsis (and in the comments claiming it is a good idea to do so) and here is On Frozen Blog doing the same.

Leonsis certainly has a portion of the once independent blogosphere doing his bidding. Did either of these bloggers decide to write blogs so that they could advertise for free for Ted Leonsis? When did their priorities change so that this became a reality? Lenosis has done a wonderful job of making these bloggers think his priorities are actually their priorities.

At the same time, I think of the blogosphere as an independent source of opinions. Things like this make me wonder how independent it actually is. It is a shame if the independant voice dies, because the mainstream media is not too independent.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kessel Has Cancer

Boston Bruins rookie Phil Kessel has testicular cancer. He had cancer related surgery in Boston on Monday. This is a very curable form of cancer if it is caught early (as Kessel's was), so his prognosis looks good. His timetable for his return to hockey is unknown. Last summer, PGA golfer Billy Mayfair played in the PGA Championship only two weeks after testicular cancer surgery - so Kessel may not be gone an extraordinary amount of time.

Kessel is one of only two players from the the 2006 Entry Draft to earn NHL jobs this season (Jordan Staal of Pittsburgh is the other), so he likely has a bright future ahead of himself.

Sometimes, real life issues like this make the game of hockey (which I obsess about most of the time) seem unimportant. Lets hope things go well for Kessel so I can go back to my hockey obsession.

Here is TSN's story about Phil Kessel.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

St Louis Hires New Coach

When a team is doing poorly, its just a matter of time before the caoch is fired even if the team's problems are not the coach's fault. In St Louis, there is very little talent. Sure they spent some money in the off season bringing in Doug Weight, Jay McKee, Bill Guerin, Martin Rucinsky, Radek Dvorak and Manny Legace, but this was a case of forced spending so that the team could make the salary floor more than an attempt to compete now. Unless their existing younger players like Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackmen can become NHL stars and start to become a viable core of a good team, signing aging free agents will not be a winning strategy. Nevertheless, the salary floor forces St Louis to at least partially follow this strategy and prevents them from giving all their roster spots to young players who may one day emerge as a good core.

St Louis is failing again this year. The situation is not made better when some of their free agent sigings in Jay McKee and Manny Legace get hurt (which is to be expected when you sign aging free agents). With Curtis Sanford also hurt, their top two goalies are both hurt. St Louis must find a fall guy for their lack of talent and the coach is a simple target. So just like Chicago, Columbus and Philadelphia, the coach has been fired.

In St Louis's case, there is little evidence that Mike Kitchen is a good NHL coach, so his replacement cannot hurt. They feel that they missed the boat by letting Ken Hitchcock go to Columbus. So they fired Kitchen and hired Andy Murray. Murray is a good coach with a solid track record who was let go by LA in a desparate failed attempt to make the playoffs last year. Its a move that cannot hurt the Blues, but they are still not a good team.

St Louis's coach replacement will not make the Blues a good team. It might give them a short term boost, but thats likely the end of the benefits.

Here is TSN's story on Murray's hiring.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Devils New Salary Cap Problem

It was a relatively big story when New Jersey made some last minute moves to make the salary cap on opening day. They traded all but retired Vladimir Malakhov to San Jose to get his salary off their books and had Alexander Mogilny declared a longterm injury exception because of his hip problems and likely forced Mogilny into retirement.

The Devils also had Richard Matvichuk's bad back declared a longterm injury exemption and Jason Weimer's knee surgery declared a longterm injury exemption and sent Dan McGillis to the AHL because they could not afford his salary.

Matvichuk is recovered from his injury and nearly ready to play again, but New Jersey doesn't have the salary cap room to activate him. Weimer is expected back in February, and will likely create a new round of salary cap problems.

In the near term, Lou Lamoreillo will have to make a decision about what to do with Matvichuk. Matvichuk is 33 and coming off of back surgery. So it might be logical to merely send him to the minors and have him lost for the rest of the season because of re-entry waivers. This would likely push him into retirement as well. Other options include some kind of salary dumping trade or possibly a demotion of Brad Lukowich. Because New Jersey is on a five game winning streak, it might make sense to not make any changes and discard Matvichuk to the minors. Why change things when they are going well? A similar decision will be needed when Weimer comes back.

New Jersey's salary cap problems have weakened the NHL. Alexander Mogilny, Vladimir Malakhov and quite possibly Richard Matvichuk will be forced into retirement for financial reasons and not because they were ready to retire. Dan McGillis is playing very well in the AHL. His 17 points in 26 games leads the Lowell Devils defence. He would be a great player to call up to the Devils defence, except they cannot for salary cap reasons. The salary cap is keeping talent out of the NHL that would otherwise be there.

Once again, the New Jersey Devils find themselves with salary cap problems due to poor planning by Lou Lamoreillo. He will have to do some fancy manoeuvering to get himself out of these problems. The problem is that this manoeuvering pushes players out of the NHL (and often into retirement) for no reason other than their salary. The best players are not in the NHL, other cheaper, but not as good, players wind up taking their spots.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Best Goals Against In The NHL

I have written in the past that Detroit has the best shots against in the NHL but hasn't consistently turned this into the best goals against average in the league due to unspectacular goaltending.

It shows just how useless the goals against average statistic is when Dominik Hasek leads the league with a 1.88 GAA but has not been a great goalie and sports a .909 saves percentage that places him 18th in the NHL. Hasek may have the best GAA in the league, but he is no Vezina candidate.

The team that is best at keeping the puck out of their net is the Dallas Stars. They have a team GAA of 2.10. They have a good group of defensive minded players with Sergei Zubov, Darryl Sydor, Philippe Boucher, Stephane Robidas and Jaroslav Modry leading their defence. All are veterans who have a strong skillset. On forward, they have many players who make valued defensive contributions including former Selke winner Jere Lehtinen, Mike Modano and Brendan Morrow. Even players who have had their defensive responsibility called into question in past teams like Mike Ribeiro and Eric Lindros are pulling their weight. The most important difference between Dallas and Detroit is that Marty Turco has been a consistent strong goaltender who has consistently kept the puck out.

Dallas is a very hard team to score against and that makes them hard to defeat.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Early Coach Of The Year

Generally, my opinions of who should win coach of the year are different from those of the mainstream media. Usually, they award coach of the year to the coach of the most improved team regardless of whether or not that coach is the main reason for the improvement. It often removes established coaches from the running because their team was good last season and is again good this season. Last season I supported Jacques Lemaire as coach of the year despite the fact he had little chance of winning the award.

This season, the choice for coach of the year appears to be so clearcut, that even the coach of the most improved team method will not get it wrong. The coach of the year, at this point in the season, is clearly Ted Nolan of the New York Islanders. Nolan took over an Islander team that was poorly run and in chaos and awarding record long term contracts to mid-level goalies. All predictions had the Islanders failing miserably.

So far this season, that hasn't happened. If the season ended right now, the Islanders would qualify for a playoff berth with seventh seed in the east. Even Alexei Yashin is playing hard and looks like he cares. A lot of that credit goes to Ted Nolan. In has last coaching job, he was coach of the year with Buffalo in 1996/97 only to find himself out of a job and unable to get back to the NHL for almost a decade. He is proven to be a good coach who can get the best out of his players.

This coach of the year pick might get more contreversial if the Islanders fall in the standings and look to miss the playoffs (which would not surprise me). Nevertheless, Nolan would still be doing a wonderful job coaching this team. He made a team in chaos into a playoff contender.

I am not the only one praising Ted Nolan. Here is Lyle Richardson doing the same.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ottawa Offence Reawakens

Early this season, Ottawa's offence was running last in the NHL. This was quite a shock considering that in 2005/06, their offence lead the league in goals. Things have been fixed. Ottawa now has the second best offence in the NHL with 3.48 goals per game. They are beaten only by Buffalo right now.

As the Ottawa offence has improved so has the team's results. If the season ended right now, Ottawa would hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the east.

Things changed because the Senators are too talented a team to not score for a long time. Currently nine players have more than 15 points on the team. They are led by Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza with 36 points each. Daniel Alfredsson, Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher, Andrej Meszaros, Joe Corvo, Peter Schaefer and Chris Neil are their other players who have scored better than 15 points. This is the way things work in hockey. When a team is going well, they have lots of players doing well. When they are not (as was the situation in October in Ottawa) nobody looks good. Teams feel pressure to make a move (often out of panic) when many times doing nothing is the smartest move of all. Ottawa has a very good team. Their start this season was an aberration.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Future Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk Retires

Future Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk announced retirement last night. He is a player who had an extraordinary career and should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2010 when he gains eligibility. He is the first retirement of a future hall of famer since Dave Andreychuck. Joe Nieuwendyk was born in Oshawa, Ontario on September 10th, 1966. He was raised in Whitby, Ontario and grew up in the Ontario Minor Hockey System. He is the first player that has made my hall of fame list while this blog has existed to announce retirement.

Nieuwendyk went to Cornell University to further his education and continue his hockey career. After a freshman year where he scored 45 points in 29 games and won the ECAC rookie of the year, Calgary drafted him in the second round 27th overall. Nieuwendyk returned for his sophomore year wher he improved to 54 points and made the NCAA first all star team and the ECAC first all star team. In his junior year, while limited to only 23 games he scored 52 points and again made both the ECAC and NCAA first all star teams and was named ECAC player of the year. Calgary liked what they saw and offered him an NHL contract to leave school a year early.

In Calgary he scored 6 points in his 9 games and earned a regular shift in the playoffs where he put up 4 more points on 6 playoff games. The next season (1987/88), he scored 51 goals as a rookie (only the second rookie ever to accomplish that feat - Mike Bossy being the first). He played in his first of four NHL all star games and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. In 1989, he followed that up with another 51 goal season and a Stanley Cup. Nieuwendyk remained a star in Calgary until 1995, where he continually was among the top goal scorers in the team (and in the league in general). In 1995, he also won the King Clancy Trophy for charitable contributions.

In the 1995/96 season, an injured Nieuwendyk was trade to Dallas for junior player Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen. In Dallas, he remained a star and represented Canada in the 1998 Olympics. In 1999, he won his second Stanley Cup, this time as a member of the Dallas Stars. He led the playoffs with 11 goals and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. In 2002, he was again chosen to represent Canada in the Olympics and won a gold medal. At the trade deadline, he was traded to New Jersey with Jamie Langenbrunner for Randy McKay, Jason Arnott and a first round pick (which was eventually traded to Buffalo and used for Daniel Paille).

In New Jersey, Nieuwendyk won his third Stanley Cup in 2003. This time with New Jersey.

Nieuwendyk moved on as a free agent and spent 2003/04 in Toronto playing in front of his hometown fans.

After the lockout, Nieuwendyk moved on as a free agent again. This time he played with Florida. Even at the age of 39, he was the second highest scorer on the team. This season his recurring back problems caught up to him. He was limited to 15 games (in his team's first 29). Nieuwendyk was forced into retirement by his doctor's orders.

Nieuwendyk retires as the 19th highest goal scorer ever with 564 goals. He also had 562 career assists for a total of 1126 career points.

Nieuwendyk was a very good goal scorer. He has a fast accurate wristshot and is a very good faceoff man.

That leaves fourteen are players who future hall of famers regardless of their future accomplishments (or lack of them) still active. They are:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Joe Sakic
Brendan Shanahan

As more hockey is played this year, there will likely be some additions. Should players on this list retire (such as Brian Leetch) the list could also shrink.

Here is TSN's story on the Nieuwendyk retirement.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pronger Finding A Scoring Touch

Chris Pronger is a Hall of Fame defender who has had most of his career value shown in his defensive play. His career best season is a 62 point year in St Louis in 1999/2000 when he won the Hart Trophy. This year, he has been even more dominant offensively. He has 30 points in 29 games which is good for second place in the West Conference. He is still contributing defensively and may be having his best season of his career. Despite that, I believe Nicklas Lidstrom is the best defender in the year so far and also the Hart Trophy favorite. Both Lidstrom and Pronger are haviong fabulous years (at this point I would call them the two best players in the NHL this season). Lidstrom has been extremely dominant in his own zone. He is a big part of the reason Detroit has allowed the least shots in the NHL this season. The fact that the two best players in the NHL are West Conference defenders is part of the reason that the west has been lower scoring than the east.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Selanne Doing Well

Teemu Selanne is a 36 year old player coming off a 90 point season. It is quite reasonable to expect that he will have a good season, but he has also shown signs of decline. Last year's 90 points was his best offensive ouptut since 1998/99. Because of this, I chose to leave him out of my top 50 player list this summer (to the dismay of Earl Sleek from the Battle of California). After the month of October, when Selanne scored 8 points in his 10 games, this looked like an acceptable pick, but it doesn't anymore. Since the start of November, Selanne is the top scorer in the NHL. He has 26 points in that time. He has climbed to fifth place in the NHL scoring race. In fact, Selanne leads the lower scoring West Conference in scoring.

If Selanne keeps scoring at this rate, he will soon be contending for the scoring title in the league. Success like that would be more than enough to cement Selanne's position as a Hall of Famer.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Re-Entry Waiver Problem Not Fixed

One problem that came with the new CBA last season is that of re-entry waivers. Last season, any player who was making more than $75,000 in the minors would have to clear waivers to be called up to the NHL. If a player was claimed on re-entry waivers, then the team that lost him would assume half his salary (and his salary cap hit) while the claiming team would get him at half price. In most cases, somebody would claim a player if the could get him at half-price. Teams nearly the salary cap could not afford to risk calling up such players because they could not afford to lose them and still have to pay half their salary as well as the salary of whichever player had to fill their spot after they were lost. Effectively, this means that if a player making above the limit gets sent ot the minors he is stuck there for the rest of the season. It is too risky to bring him back.

This created problems with the minor pro hockey leagues. The minor league players in the Professional Hockey Players Association (which represents the AHL and the ECHL) sued the NHL. They claimed this was an illegal clause in the NHL CBA since it effectively capped salaries in the minors at $75,000 per player and this cap was imposed upon these players in negotiation by the NHLPA, a union to which that are not member. The Winnipeg Free Press falsely reported a solution (and I believed them). There was a proposal that any player with over 320 professional games (180 if its a goalie) would be exempt from re-entry waivers. That was not what was eventually agreed upon. They instead agrreed to raise the salary limit to $95,000 and keep the rule the same.

This means that any player on a one-way contract (where they dont get paid at a lower rate in the minors cannot be called back up except in rare circumstances).

So far this season, two players have been claimed on re-entry waivers. Nashville claimed Michael Leighton on re-entry waivers from Anaheim when Tomas Vokoun got hurt. Why not get a half-priced backup goalie to get through the injury? Tampa Bay claimed Andre Roy from Pittsburgh. Roy had a successful run with the Lightning in the past and they let him go partially because of payroll concerns - but at half-price why not?

Los Angeles finds themselves with one of the most awkward two goalie systems in the NHL. Dan Cloutier has played very poorly while he has shared Kings goaltending responsibilites with Mathieu Garon, who has been much more adequate. Garon is currently out with a groin injury. Los Angeles has Jason LaBarbera, who was their backup last season, playing very well in the minors. So naturally they brought up Barry Brust instead. They did this because LaBarbera must clear re-entry waivers to get back to the NHL. If Leighton got claimed, LaBarbera would most definitely get claimed as well. But Los Angeles doesn't want to give away LaBarbera so they keep him in the minors and use other weaker goalies in the NHL.

This is another example of the CBA keeping the best players from the NHL. It fits with the players who are left on the sideline or going to Europe because of the CBA, when they are good enough for the NHL. We also have players stuck in the AHL who are good enough for the NHL, but cannot get there due to the CBA. In fact, re-entry waivers is a big part of the reason some of the players go to Europe. They risk a situation where they get stuck in the AHL, unable to be promoted or else accept a two-way contract. So why not go to Europe where they will have a better situation and quite possibly more money? The NHL should be the league of the best available players in the world, but the red tape they have imposed on themselves is chipping away at that.

Here is James Mirtle on the Jason LaBarbera situation.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

NHL's Worst Offence

Last night, as Vancouver defeated Colorado 2-1 and Columbus defeated Edmonton 4-0, the Blue Jackets moved past the Canucks to become the NHL's second worst offence. So far, Vancouver has 2.15 goals per game while Columbus has 2.16. How did Vancouver become the worst offence in the NHL? Last year they were 12th with 3.07 goals per game. They have dropped by nearly a goal per game. While it is true they are in the lower scoring conference, this isn't good enough.

Offensively, Vancouver lost Todd Bertuzzi (though he has been injured in Florida so he would have been lost even without a trade) and Anson Carter (his 9 points so far this year have not been a big deal). Otherwise, the key offensive players from last season remain. Markus Naslund is off to a relatively slow start with 19 points in 26 games. He is behind both Sedins. Henrik has 24 points and Daniel 20. The only other player who has been able to score a point in every other game is defenceman Sami Salo, who has 14 in his 23 games. Everybody else just hasn't been scoring. There are people who should be scoring more. Brendan Morrison, Jan Bulis, Ryan Kesler, Taylor Pyatt and Mattias Ohlund were all counted on for more offensive output. While some of these players should pick things up in the remainder of the season, Vancouver has a bad offence.

The problem is that Vancouver has chose to be a top heavy team paying their stars a large chunk of the salary cap money and those (offensive) stars have not produced. In order to fill out their roster, they have depended upon cheap borderline NHL players in too many spots. People like Marc Chouinard, Alexandre Burrows and Josh Green are relied upon to play significant minutes and none of them are good enough to provide significant offence. If the stars (namely Naslund and Morrison) begin to score at expected rates, Vancouver's offence will get back on track, but it does not appear to be happening.

Vancouver has not been an awful team this year. They have 13 wins and 14 losses (1 a regulation tie). This is due largely to strong goaltending from Roberto Luongo.

Should Vancouver's offence not get on track, it will be a long year for the Canucks. They will likely finish well back of a playoff spot.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

West Conference Scoring Leaders

As I noted yesterday in my post about Patrick Marleau being the Lady Byng leader, scoring is much higher in the East Conference this year than it is in the West Conference. So far there have been 6.18 goals per game in games involving east conference teams and 5.60 goals per game in games involving west conference teams. This is about 10% more scoring in the east conference. The fact the west conference is lower scoring was also true last season.

This does not mean that the east conference is better than the west conference. In fact, the west conference record in common games is 28 wins 27 losses (7 of those losses were regularion ties so BOTH conferences can falsely claim to be above .500 against each other). The record in common games is for all intents a draw. If there is any edge it is to the west conference because they are disadvantaged in travel and are matching the east conference. The west teams get less rest and practise time because they log many more miles over a season (their conference is spread over 4 time zones instead of the east conference which makes up part of the eastern timezone alone). Thus a west team must be slightly better than an east team to be their equal in the standings. However, its probably the most accurate picture to see both conferences as equals with different styles of play.

There is no easy explanation for this difference. It appears that due to chance more good offensive players are in the east and more good defensive players and goaltenders are in the west.

West conference players do not appear as prominantly in the scoring leaders because they play in a lower scoring setting. Nevertheless, those players who lead the west in scoring are having very good years and should be highlighted.

Here are the top 10 scorers in the west conference this season so far:

Top 10 Scorers In The West Conference (as of the conclusion of Dec 1st games)
Name Team Goals Assists Points Standing in League
Teemu SelanneAna11203111
Chris ProngerAna4242821
Patrick MarleauSJ13142723
Jarome IginlaCal13142724
Joe ThorntonSJ7202725
Joe SakicCol9172627
Alexander FrolovLA14112529
Petr SykoraEdm12132530
Steve SullivanNas7182534
Mike CammalleriLA10142438

It takes a list of 38 top scorers to include 10 west players (there are 28 east players on that list). This list includes 10 very good NHL players. They are all having very good seasons. Teemu Selanne is maintaining his exceptional play from last season leading the west conference in scoring. Chris Pronger is second while playing defence. That is an outstanding result so far.

It isn't true that the entire west conference is the same. This list includes 6 Pacific Division players, 3 Northwest Division players and only one Central Division player. Scoring varies from division to division, but it is much harder to try to establish that two divisions have roughly the same calibre of play. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Pacific Division is the highest scoring of the west divisions (it includes the highest scoring west team in Anaheim and the two west teams that allow the most goals in Los Angeles and Phoenix). When the scoring leaders are listed, the top scoring players in the west are usually lost, but they are worthy of note and are often better scorers than an east player with a couple more points who is in a higher scoring environment.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lady Byng Leader

The Lady Byng Trophy is often an overlooked award. It goes to the player who best combines playing ability and gentlemanly play. Although the winner is rarely the best player in the NHL, it is won by a talented player who had a good season. So far this season there is a player who is looking like the favorite for this award.

Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks is the clear leader. He leads his team with 27 points (which is no small feat given that teammate Joe Thornton is the reigning NHL MVP). Marleau has only 4 penalty minutes so far this year. His offensive output is far bigger than it looks since he plays in the West Conference (which is a much lower scoring conference). In fact, Marleau is the third highest scorer in the West Conference (despite being 22nd in the league). The West Conference is playing a more defensive game than the east, but they have approximately equal records in games against one another, so it is clearly not an inferior game.

Patrick Marleau is the third highest scorer in his conference and playing a sportsmanlike game where he stays out of the penalty box. That is why he is the frontrunner for the Lady Byng right now.

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